I love my lava lamp. I picked it up for $15 from a market about eight years ago – much to my father’s chagrin. “It’ll never last,” said he. It has thus far proved him wrong. And he was, at one point, admittedly envious.
I’m told that Andrew and Simone’s boys like some of the stuff I post here – and I know they’ve been working on their own lava lamps… so here’s a Lava Lamp recipe I found at “What’s that stuff“… a cool site exploring the ingredients of stuff. Sadly it seems most of the ingredients are a “trade secret” or not available in the home laboratory… but this is a start.
Water and wax, which the original patents name as main ingredients, remain components of the commercial recipe, says Tom Spain, vice president of sales, marketing, and product development for Haggerty Enterprises, the official U.S. manufacturer of Lava brand lamps. Additional agents, he explains, help the wax gently plume upward instead of breaking apart into bubbles as it is heated and keep wax from sticking to the sides of the container.
Walker’s U.S. patent mentions additives such as dye, mineral oil, carbon tetrachloride, and polyethylene glycol (PEG), but the exact formula of commercial lamps is a trade secret. Spain tells C&EN that only five or six staff chemists know the formula and are in charge of occasional reformulations. Densities must be recorded for each batch of wax that Haggerty makes, which is mixed in 5-foot-tall vats in factories in China.
Last but not least, the water layer is added to the cooled wax very slowly so as to avoid creating emulsions, which are cloudy-looking oil-water mixtures. In fact, the recipe for the water layer is carefully adjusted to perfectly complement the density of each unique batch of wax.